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Auburn safety Smoke Monday (21) celebrates after returning an interception for a touchdown in the final minute of the second half of an NCAA football game to secure the win over Georgia State, Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, in Auburn, Ala. Auburn won 34-24. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Ah, another Auburn football game. Another undeserved gift from a Southeastern Conference officiating crew. Don't tell me that Alabama is always the league's favorite team.

It happened again on Saturday at the Loveliest Village on the Plains. A wretched non-call by SEC officials helped deliver a football victory to the Tigers they might not have won otherwise against Georgia State.

It was the same type of inept officiating that stole a possible win from Ole Miss a year ago against the Tigers. It was the same questionable replay behavior that took a touchdown off the board for Kentucky at Auburn at the start of that same Covid-altered 2020 season.

It was also the same stunningly poor officiating that took a win away from Arkansas at Auburn in October of last year when that crew failed to recognize Tigers quarterback Bo Nix threw a backward pass, which would have been a live ball recoverable by the Razorbacks. Instead, AU retained possession and kicked a game-winning field goal.

But if all those mistakes in Auburn's favor weren't enough to raise eyebrows throughout the Southeast, there's that third-down punt an SEC crew forced Penn State to boot against Auburn last week because they couldn't count to four.

At least, unlike Georgia State, Ole Miss, Kentucky and Arkansas, Penn State didn't suffer a defeat, knocking off the Tigers 28-20 in Happy Valley.

And while I don't seriously believe the league is out to unfairly help Auburn or Alabama just because league headquarters are located in Birmingham, it does seem as if a lot of highly controversial officiating calls have ended up going the Tigers' way of late.

What was different with the Georgia State embarrassment was that Panthers coach Sean Elliott — who coached at South Carolina from 2010 t0 2016, and was named the interim head coach midway through the 2015 season when Steve Spurrier unexpectedly retired — didn't have to obey the SEC's no comment rule regarding officiating, since GSU isn't a league member.

"They had a little bit of help on that review where the ball was incomplete," Elliott said afterward of the eventual 34-24 loss. "It should have been put back on the 30-yard line. But you know when you play in the SEC you gotta take the hits. And they gave us a real gut punch on that call. So we appreciate that."

He later added, "Sports can rip you apart."

Listen, everybody makes mistakes. We're human. Perfection is a goal, not a reality. But when you have replay and the replay clearly shows, as it did in the Georgia State game, that a 19-yard Auburn pass reception hit the ground, then that play should be swiftly overturned.

Instead, the Tigers were given the catch on the GSU 11 with 1:13 to play, which led to an Auburn touchdown pass on a fourth-and-9 play 28 seconds later that put the Tigers on top 27-24 after a successful two-point conversion. An Auburn pick-six a few seconds after that provided the final margin.

Obviously, Georgia State could have still lost had that reception been rightly overturned. There was still over a minute to go. AU would have been 30 yards away trailing by five at 24-19. But the Tigers should have had to go 30 yards instead of 11.

Of course, when Ole Miss was cheated a year ago, Rebels coach Lane Kiffin gladly took the $25,000 fine for speaking out on social media against the officials failing to go to replay to confirm a Tiger had touched a kickoff that was recovered for an Ole Miss score.

"(The SEC) called to explain what happened," began Kiffin on a teleconference a day or two later "I really wish, for our players, for our fans, that they could hear what I was just told. I think they deserve to. But I askedthey made sure to tell me there's a policy that I can't tell you, the players or the fans what their, if you want to call it, explanation for that situation and how TV everybody in the country could see it hit him." Everybody, apparently, except the blind mice in the SEC replay booth. Or does that give blind mice a bad name?

And maybe this is more about poor officiating in general within the league rather than a few critical calls favoring Auburn. After all, league member Mississippi State was on the wrong end of an SEC crew's screwup in a loss to Memphis a couple of weeks ago regarding a State punt one official ruled down, but then let Memphis return it for a score.

Bulldogs boss Mike Leach said through gritted teeth after that one: "Oh, don't even get me started. I'll have to decide whether I want to spend some money before I get into that very much. I think you need to look carefully at it and make your own judgment."

The judgement from here is that a league that continually trumpets the fact that sports "just means more" within the SEC should care much more about the quality of its football officiating.

However, until that happens, Auburn opponents might want to keep their fingers crossed that their games against the Tigers don't come down to a replay review by an SEC officiating crew.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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